Intimates and Fools is a great example of an artist-writer collaboration that truly works as a partnership. The images enhance the words, and vice ver...moreIntimates and Fools is a great example of an artist-writer collaboration that truly works as a partnership. The images enhance the words, and vice versa, neither overwhelming the other. Full of vibrant lines: "There are no fools here, I say / in a whisper, a prayer / a hope."(less)
Annihilation is unsettling, but not in the way that I expected. Rather it is creepy in a subtle, psychological way,...moreReceived as a Goodreads giveaway.
Annihilation is unsettling, but not in the way that I expected. Rather it is creepy in a subtle, psychological way, one that I was not able to stop thinking about after reading and which made me unable to read it right before bed. There is little blood and gore, here. There are also few thriller-style chases, and the lurking things of Area X are not the immediate cause of fear, either. What I think scared me the most is the main character's, the biologist's, distance, and the strange mysteriousness of Area X as a whole. I highly recommend this book. (less)
The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories comes out tomorrow. This collection includes ten short storie...moreOriginally posted on Short Story Review:
The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories comes out tomorrow. This collection includes ten short stories with afterwords by Connie Willis as well as an introduction by her and the texts of three of her speeches: the 2006 Guest of Honor speech, the Grand Master Acceptance Speech, and an additional Grand Master Speech she prepared in the event that she would be required to give more than one. All of the stories in this collection have won either the Hugo or the Nebula Award, so they are certainly all fan favorites.
I was unfamiliar with Connie Willis before reading this collection; having only read “Even the Queen,” which is one of the stories included, I thought this collection an excellent introduction to Willis’ writing. The stories here are sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-wrenching, and often both.
In “At the Rialto,” quantum physicists gather at a convention in Hollywood. The main character, Dr. Ruth Baringer, regrets having skipped out on most of the events at the last conference to sightsee with another physicist, David. This time, she wants to attend all of the events in an attempt to better understand quantum theory. What she doesn’t realize is that a perfect metaphor for quantum theory is all around her, in the crazy culture of Hollywood. A funny parallel between the need for a certain lack of seriousness in both Hollywood and the study quantum theory. Part romance story, part travel story, “At the Rialto” is smart in a light-hearted way.
“Death on the Nile” is another story with an emphasis on travel as well as death. A group of friends travels to Egypt, only for the heroine to realize the startling and subtly horrifying parallels between their trip and a movie she once saw, where a group of travelers on a ship do not realize that they are, in fact, dead. Creepy and somewhat surreal, “Death on the Nile” is the sort of story where you sense what is happening but don’t want to believe it.
The academic-style prose is perfect for “The Soul Selects Her Own Society: Invasion and Repulsion: A Chronological Reinterpretation of Two of Emily Dickinson’s Poems: A Wellsian Perspective.” The title is a hilarious mouthful, as is the story, where the writer of the “academic paper” analyzes two of Dickinson’s posthumous poems and argues that they were written to the aliens from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, who also landed in the cemetery where Dickinson is buried. This rebranding of Dickinson as a hero – the author argues that her poems were what scared this particular group of aliens away – is brilliant. This story has become one of my favorite stories.
The lesson learned by the young historian Bartholomew in the futuristic “Fire Watch” isn’t the lesson he was expecting to learn. The study of history has incorporated time travel, and all young historians are required to go back in time and complete a task that they are often ill-prepared for. Bartholomew is assigned to go back to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the Blitz, unsure of what exactly he’s supposed to do there. A rich blend of history and science fiction.
“Even the Queen” might be the funniest story I have ever read. The story revolves around a family newly outraged that the youngest daughter has joined a group called the Cyclists. My first read of this story, I admit that it took me longer than it probably should to realize what the Cyclists were, but once I got the joke, I could not stop laughing. In this future world, women are blessed with the ability to stop their periods, usually through the insertion/installation of a device called a shunt. The Cyclists are a radical group who choose to remove their shunts. The story’s highest point of hilarity happens when the three generations of women in the family meet at an intervention-type dinner and discuss their personal histories with menstruation.
Willis’ fascination with London’s Tube comes through in “The Winds of Marble Arch,” in which a couple visiting London as adults remember the last time they visited, when they were younger and poorer and their friends were full of life; these days, the couple can afford to stay in a fancy hotel and take taxis everywhere, and the friends they once went with on crazy adventures have aged, settled, and become bored. While taking the Tube, the man smells an overwhelming scent which provokes in him a feeling of terror and death. Fascinated and frightened, he finds the smell in several stations and attempts to sort out the mystery of what is causing it while his wife, Cath, refuses to take the Tube. This is a beautiful, serious story about death and decay with a surprisingly hopeful ending.
The afterwords by Connie Willis at the end of each story are filled with explanations of how the idea for that particular story came to her as well as a few tidbits of writing advice. These afterwords provided some of my favorite parts in the collection.
Also included in the collection are the stories “All Seated on the Ground,” “Inside Job,” “A Letter to the Clearys” and “The Last of the Winnebagos.” (less)
"Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl" by Richard Parks "Icicle" by Yukimi Ogawa "Lesser Creek: A Love S...moreOriginally posted on Short Story Review:
"Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl" by Richard Parks "Icicle" by Yukimi Ogawa "Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story" by A.C. Wise "The Wanderer King" by Alisa Alering "Lilo Is" by Corinne Duyvis "Selected Program Notes From the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" by Kenneth Schneyer "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly" by Benjanun Sriduangkaew "The History of Soul 2065" by Barbara Krasnoff
With a release date of July 2013, Clockwork Phoenix 4 will provide some not-so-light summer reading. The latest in the series edited by Mike Allen, Clockwork Phoenix 4 was Kickstarter-funded, and the introduction to this volume has Allen explaining the reason behind this crowd-funded reincarnation, rather than the puzzle of an introduction which began the first three volumes. This volume contains eighteen original stories which can only be classified as speculative; most of them blur or even reject genre lines altogether. The common thread which runs through these stories is a sense of unsettling strangeness. There were several moments when reading that I felt physically altered, only to realize that it was the story and not my body which was causing the queasy feeling in my gut.
That is not to say that these stories are not enjoyable; they are, in a discombobulating, shiver-inducing kind of way. And there were several of the tales which left me thinking on them long after I had finished reading. I can't say that I understood all of the stories in this collection -- there are a few, such as Yves Meynard's "Our Lady of the Thylacines" and Benjanun Sriduangkaew's "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly" -- whose surface-level meanings remain fuzzy, but I feel as though that confusion might add to these stories' charm. For certain, there is not one story in Clockwork Phoenix 4 that I found completely absent of merit.
In Richard Parks' "Beach Bum and the Drowned Girl," two personifications of two distinct clichés meet on a beach on several separate occasions. The Drowned Girl floats in the ocean until she washes upon a shore and upsets a community then promptly disappears, giving them an urban legend to pass down for generations. The Beach Bum falls in love summer after summer, a fling which the lovers will remember for the rest of the lives. Both characters exist mostly in the memory of the people they have left. Together they speak of their reasons for existing, their reasons for performing the same ritual again and again. This story has an unexplainable but beautiful sadness to it.
Yukimi Ogawa's "Icicle" is a simple, folkloric story of a half human, half snow-woman whose body boasts both a human heart and an icicle which rests poised ready to pierce her heart. Her fragility comes to be a burden when she decides to see the ocean, traveling far from the mountain where she was raised. Never having known her father, the story feels from the beginning as though that might be where her quest will lead. Not entirely predictable, however, the story does end on a disquieting revelation.
A boy and a girl, a devil and a ghost, make a yearly bet -- they never remember the results -- on who can capture the most souls in A.C. Wise's "Lesser Creek: A Love Story, A Ghost Story." A tragic story in which the sense of entrapment is palpable, "Lesser Creek" also says something about gender roles, as the village's perceptions of the two spirits differs greatly, and the methods with which they extract their souls both sets them apart and unites them.
In Alisa Alering's "The Wanderer King," a post-apocalyptic story in which the apocalypse is never explained, society has been split into two factions: the Wanderers and the Fixers. Two friends -- Pansy, a Wanderer, and Chool, a Fixer -- find a crown and set off to find the dead body it belongs to, the king who will save them. An eerie tale of redemption as Chool seeks to atone for her own bloody past, of which Pansy is not aware.
A woman has a spider-demon's child and is then forced to raise her on her own in Corinne Duyvis' "Lilo Is." Short and sweet, "Lilo Is" explores a mother's challenge to instill in her child a solid sense of self-esteem.
Written as a program to a gallery's art exhibition, "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer" by Kenneth Schneyer is an innovative story told in an innovative way. The program notes feel like authentic program notes, complete with the program writer's pompous discussion questions which often miss the mark completely. A vivid retrospective of an imaginary artist's interesting life, with clues contained within the piece that there is much below the artwork's surface.
In Benjanun Sriduangkaew's "The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly," a woman with little time to live has her heart replaced with bees in a world where technology and life are intertwined. It's a challenging story which will reward readers more familiar with the science fictional tropes in which the story deals, but I found the details of her transformation fascinating, and her search for her missing sibling hits home.
"The History of Soul 2065" by Barbara Krasnoff is the story, told in ten-year increments, of a group of family and friends who meet each year for seder. The character Abram tells them, on the youngest member's first seder, of a legend: originally, there were 60,000 souls in the universe which were broken into pieces. When all the pieces of a soul return to one another, "a part of the universe is healed and made whole." The group decides that they are all part of Soul 2065, and a tradition is born where each year they tell each other one thing that has happened to them throughout the year. It's interesting to hear the complete lives of so many characters, and the moment of realization that the story is not as simple as it first appears is a shock.
Available here for pre-order, Clockwork Phoenix 4 also contains:
"Our Lady of the Thylacines" by Yves Meynard "The Canal Barge Magician's Number Nine Daughter" by Ian McHugh "On the Leitmotif of the Trickster Constellation in Northern Hemispheric Star Charts, Post-Apocalypse" by Nicole Kornher-Stace "Trap-Weed" by Gemma Files "What Still Abides" by Marie Brennan "A Little of the Night" by Tanith Lee "I Come From the Dark Universe" by Cat Rambo "Happy Hour at The Tooth and Claw" by Shira Lipkin "Three Times" by Camille Alexa "The Old Woman With No Teeth" by Patricia Russo(less)
As far as short fiction goes, McSweeney's has always been one of favorite magazines, partly because do not shy...moreOriginally posted on Short Story Review:
As far as short fiction goes, McSweeney's has always been one of favorite magazines, partly because do not shy away from stories which contain fantastic elements. In the most recent issue--McSweeney's 41--we have twelve short fiction stories, four of which are written by Aboriginal Australian writers in a section highlighting Australian short fiction; each piece in the issue is illustrated. The issue also contains two excerpts from McSweeney's titles and two nonfiction essays.
Of those twelve short stories, two contain speculative elements. Steven Millhauser's "American Tall Tale" is one of my favorites in the issue. The story tells of Paul Bunyon's lazy, skinny brother, James Bunyon, and the sleeping contest which takes place between them. Considering that I've never before heard a modern retelling of the tall tales I grew up with, the plot of this story was refreshing to me, and I enjoyed the lightheartedness of the story. It's a humorous piece and an entertaining exploration of sibling rivalry written in the style of those larger-than-life tall tales they teach to elementary schoolers.
I'm less enthusiastic about Ryan Boudinot's "Robot Sex." This story concerns the life of a robot who works in an office and communicates regularly with two exiled orangutans in space who are plotting with the rest of their species to take over the world. The robot's life is much like ours, adjusted only slightly; he speaks like a wannabe hipster--an attempt at humor which sometimes fell flat--but copulation for his kind is illegal and involves finding a "chop-shop owner who's willing to look the other way for a couple of grand (pg. 170)," after which they weld, solder, and cross-connect their processors. He meets a lady robot, and trouble ensues. The ultimate message of the piece, that humanity is stuck in a violent cycle, is nothing new to fiction, and I felt as though the delivery wasn't a fresh one, and the writing doesn't blow me away. What I like about it, however, is that the technology is not viewed as destructive; rather, people are viewed as destructive toward technology.
"The Wolf and the Wild" by Jess Walter is possibly my favorite story in the issue. Although the main character, Wade, is a rich man convicted of a white collar crime, I could relate to him. Sentenced to volunteer work first as highway cleanup and then as a tutor for a school district, Wade's attempts at redemption seem sincere. Because I read this story while working as an after school care provider in an elementary school also overly concerned with predators, I related to Wade even more. As one of the children repeatedly crawls on his lap during story time, Wade is forced to constantly push the child away, nervous that one of the teachers might see and think Wade had pulled the child onto his lap himself.
In Thomas McGuire's "River Camp," two childhood friends with a tumultuous past--one of them has slept with the other's wife, and they both resent each other's lives--go on a camping trip with an increasingly unstable, eccentric guide who begins to unravel. The story's tension is palpable, and the two characters' personalities are so well established it was easy to believe that they could be real people.
The hard Las Angeles agent, Richter, in Henry Bean's "The Virago" also strikes me as a realistic character. By the end of the story, I felt I might know her, that she might be someone out there who I could one day encounter. Again I was surprised at the sympathy I felt for the rich woman afraid of losing her good fortune; having overheard a table of four young women calling her names, Richter becomes obsessed with destroying the careers of each of them. Already on a downward spiral, this obsession only speeds that spiral up, and her desperate attempts at keeping her place in the entertainment world makes you feel for her. An inside look at a character who ordinarily would be treated as a black-and-white villain.
We're also given the villain's point-of-view in Deb Onlin Unferth's "Stay Where You Are," though the majority of the story is told from Jane's point-of-view. In the story a married couple, Max and Jane, with a tendency to stay constantly on the move are captured by a South American gunman. As he speaks Spanish and the couple does not, they don't understand him, but the reader knows that the gunman has captured them in an attempt at impressing his group, thinking that they are Americans. Jane is tired of traveling all the time, wants to settle down, but Max cannot stand the idea. Jane's struggle consumes her even in the midst of the situation at hand, which literalizes her longing to break free.
Aimee Bender's "Wordkeepers" is a humorous flash fiction piece on our society's reliance on technology, a young teacher and his students' inability to find words for things because of that reliance, and his relationship with his much more old-fashioned neighbor. Bender's ability to inhabit her stories is unrivaled; her narration feels like it comes from a person separate of her.
The other flash fiction piece, Jowhor Ile's "Afternoon Street," baffled me. I couldn't quite suss out what was going on in the story or what the meaning of the story was meant to be.
The stories in the Aboriginal Australian portion of the issue are also short, but they each provide an insight into Australian culture, a culture I am not too familiar with. In Tony Birch's "The Promise," an alcoholic whose wife has recently left him attempts to get her back, though not to change. The promise of the title is a promise he made as a young man, both to his wife and to anyone who asked of his plans for the future, to build a church. This is a story of hitting rock bottom, of transformation, and I appreciate Birch's ability to put the reader into the mind of his main character.
Ellen Van Neervan-Currie's "S&J" is written in an Australian vernacular that can be somewhat difficult to parse through if you're unfamiliar with it, though far from impossible. Two young Aboriginal women pick up a hitchhiker. When one of them takes up with that hitchhiker, the other is faced with her own jealousy. The prose is well-written, sparse and to the point, and the distance of the narrative from the main character reflects her reluctance to admit to herself and others both her ethnic background and her sexuality.
Tara June Winch's "It's Too Difficult to Explain" is about a well-known runner on his own downward spiral. Though the prose here is often beautiful, the light coming in through Vincent's window "the color of brittle toffee," it was difficult for me to inhabit the character. In Melissa Lucashenko's "Tonsils," it is much easier to inhabit the main character and narrator's head, as their inner thoughts are relayed to us. In this story, a parental figure who has taken in an abusive mother's gay daughter is forced to deal not only with the daughter's increasingly poor health--she has a chronic cough, but the doctors will not remove her tonsils--but also the appearance of the daughter's mother. I enjoyed the bits of Australian culture this story gave me, but it isn't one that will stick in my mind.
Issue Highlights -“Killing Curses, a Caught-Heart Quest” by Krista Hoeppner Leahy -“Vanish Girl” by Andrea M. Pa...moreOriginally posted on Short Story Review:
Issue Highlights -“Killing Curses, a Caught-Heart Quest” by Krista Hoeppner Leahy -“Vanish Girl” by Andrea M. Pawley -“Neighbors” by Kamila Z. Miller
I subscribed to Lady Churchill’s about a year ago, so the wait for this issue, released in January, was long; called “an occasional zine,” Lady Churchill’s is a magazine for those of us who like surprises. My only other experience with the magazine was the anthology, Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, which I read and greatly enjoyed and which led to my subscribing to the magazine. This issue made me sure that subscribing was the right choice.
Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet is a small zine with a big title; it’s very unassuming in appearance, though Junyi Wu’s cover art for Issue 28 is magnificent: a black and white drawing of three wolves surrounding a patch of tiny houses. Issue 28 contains eight pieces of fiction, one piece of nonfiction, and one poem.
(view spoiler)[ The first piece of fiction, Michael Penkas’ “Coffee with Count Presto” begins with the main character receiving an invitation to a one man show in a coffee shop. Magician intrigue and mystery ensues, as Count Presto has been giving away magician secrets. A short and clever piece with a resonant ending.
Krista Hoeppner Leahy’s “Killing Curses, a Caught-Heart Quest” is one of the highlights of the issue. An imaginative story about a “curse-killer” named Petech in watershed world. The ability to kill curses is inherited, and the story concerns Petech’s relationships with an ex-Midas (a man whose curse, the curse of turning everything he touched to gold, had been broken by Petech’s mother before her death), a tree that becomes Petech’s wife, and Petech’s daughter, who may or may not become a curse-killer herself. Strange and beautiful, the world in which “Killing Curses” takes place is incredible and vivid.
The dystopia in Kevin Waltman’s “Notes From a Pleasant Land Where Broken Hearts Are Like Broken Hands” feels slightly familiar but also relevant to the world of today; society is divided into two castes. Pleasants live suburban lives and work, supervised by Mangers, while the Cacklers remain an exotic nuisance, flinging excrement at the Pleasant work sites and wreaking havoc. The main character, Bolder, is forced to confront the Cackler’s presence when both the girl he is interested in, Palmetto, and his father begin disobeying the Mangers.
In Erica Hilderbrand’s “Akashiyaki (Octopus Dumplings, serves two),” a quirky, absurd story, Kento follows an octopus that has escaped from his brother’s restaurant into an arcade and across a pier. Heart-warming, though almost too much so.
Brian Baldi’s “Springtime for the Roofer” is an interesting exercise in point-of-view in which a roofer watches from the rooftop as a group of robots plays tag. Funny and poignant, if as sauntering as the game of tag the robots play.
Andrea M. Pawley’s “Vanish Girl” is another of my favorites from the issue. Another dystopia in which the classes are literally divided, and the loner of the title, Cora, a mesco addict, had discovered an invisible home and a strange device called a Meta-mat. Unfortunately, another girl has declared herself Cora’s roommate, and she proves to be a worse roommate than most.
Kamila Z. Miller’s “Neighbors” is another highlight. The story takes place around a holiday; on this holiday, it is customary for a young woman to place an egg in the basket of the man who she is interested in. The main character of “Neighbors” is interested in two men: a robust giant and a quiet, thin man. Her indecision causes her inner turmoil throughout the story, but what really seems to be bothering her is the stigma she has been saddled with after her father was arrested. Now an outcast from society, she wonders if either of the two men would even take her if she chose them.
Helen Marshall’s “The Book of Judgment” is about an angel who comes to visit Jane Austen. Beautifully written and intriguing, but not quite my cup of tea, as I have yet to jump on the Jane Austen train. The nonfiction piece in the issue is Nicole Kimberling’s “Feeding Strays,” a short, humorous piece on how to feed teenagers. And the poem, John McKernan’s “Prayer to Oatmeal” is a short, quirky poem written to a bowl of oatmeal, asking the oatmeal to guard the narrator throughout the day. Neither of these are as strong as the fiction, but they do provide a nice change of pace. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
In Karen Russell's second short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, it's evident that Russell's f...moreOriginally appeared on Short Story Review:
In Karen Russell's second short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, it's evident that Russell's fiction has grown and evolved with her career. Many of the stories in her first collection, St. Lucy's School for Girls Raised By Wolves, while imaginative, concerned adolescence and coming of age. The protagonists were younger, and the stories were certainly more imbued with a sense of lightness beyond the dark. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a darker, more adult book; many of these stories end with a chill.
Take the title story, "Vampires in the Lemon Grove." A vampire and his vampire wife seek to quench their thirst, having discovered that the lemons from a specific Italian lemon grove satiate them better than any drink they have found; long ago, they realized that blood does nothing for a vampire, the myth mistaken. For the main character, this realization came too late. He had been killing for years, thinking himself a monster. Becoming complacent, he longs for the days when he was feared. Beautiful, haunting, and sensory -- one can almost taste the bitter lemons -- "Vampires in the Lemon Grove" is tinged with a sense of longing and desperation.
In "Reeling for the Empire," female silkworm factory workers are forced to drink a tea which turns them into human silkworms; when their bodies fill with silk, they must hook themselves to a machine and spin the silk out of them or else they become sick. The women's oppression is tangible, and when, at the story's end, they are able to use their condition to free themselves, the relief is one of the most palpable emotions I have ever felt in a story.
"Proving Up" is a terrifying story of a family's quest to hold title to their land in the American West. Because the Homestead Act requires that their dwellings have a window for the family to be considered owners of their land, among other requirements, the community of settlers share a window among them come inspection time. Miles, a young man whose family hopes to pass inspection this time around, is given the task of riding from house to house with the window, ahead of the inspector. But when an early snow starts falling, Miles is forced to stop, and he meets a man in the snow whose hunger is for more than land. Definitely not recommended to read before bed, "Proving Up" is one of the scariest stories I have ever read.
In "The Barn at the End of Our Term," eleven American presidents wake up as horses after their death in a strange barn on a strange farm. Rutherford is the main character; obsessed with finding his wife in what he believes to be the afterlife, he latches onto a sheep. Absurd and clever, there are certainly more questions than answers in this story.
Another absurdist tale in the collection is the shorter story "Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating." There are eleven rules -- rule one is "make friends with your death," and rule two is "plan to arrive early" -- that Dougbert Shackleton gives, pamphlet-style, to ensure a successful, safe Food Chain Games experience. There are two teams in these games: Team Whale and Team Krill. Shackleton roots for Team Krill, "the underdog." Hilarious and, despite Shackleton's insistence that the games are a sometimes deadly sport of which to be a fan, one of the lighter stories in the collection.
In "The New Veterans," a massage therapist discovers that she can alter a young veteran's tattoo of a fallen comrade and alter his memories in the process. She struggles with the right decision, wanting nothing more than to see the young man free of his pain. Raises some interesting questions about memory as well as about trauma and whether it might be better to forget.
The final story in the collection, "The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis" concerns a group of bully boys who discover a lifelike scarecrow which looks exactly like the former classmate who they used to pick on. The narrator is unreliable, keeping facts from the reader as well as his friends, and so the puzzle of the story becomes figuring out what exactly happened before Eric's disappearance from the town. An unsettling story about redemption and consequences.
Also included in the collection is "The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979," a nod back to Russell's first collection: another coming-of-age story in which a boy struggling with family problems, future problems, and girl problems discovers that seagulls are determining some of his life events for him. Strange, worth reading, but not one of my favorites, and not one of Russell's best.
Other than "The Seagull Army," however, this collection is populated with top of the line stories, most of which I now consider favorites. While her first collection, with the exception of "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," left me lukewarm, this collection left me with a sense that I had, unlike the vampires in the title story, finally quenched a literary thirst. (less)